Students are to learn how to design and write their own software in a trial to be launched at 20 schools in England.
If successful, the move will lead to new GCSE and A-level courses aimed at giving students a better grounding in computer science. The industry-funded scheme will last from November until the end of school year.
Science minister David Willetts made the announcement today during a visit to the British Festival of Science at the University of Bradford. He said the move recognised that by the age of 15 or 16 most schoolchildren had “quite a sophisticated” knowledge of IT.
The way the curriculum was designed at the moment, students were being taught basic skills they already knew. Yet the business community was “desperately short” of people with the ability to create software programmes. “I’m told that is like gold dust for the business sector,” said Willetts.
The gap in Britain’s IT education was brought into sharp focus last month by Eric Schmidt, chief executive of internet giant Google. Delivering the annual MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, he said: “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but gives no insight into how it’s made.”
“That’s just throwing away your great computing heritage,” he said.
The pilot scheme will involve around 100 GCSE pupils and is being conducted on a voluntary extra-curricular basis. Some of the schools named as participants are Manchester Grammar, Bradfield College, Reading, Park House School, Newbury, and Townley Grammar in Bexleyheath, Kent.
Willetts said there would be a live pilot over two terms in schools that will “transform the IT curriculum away from computer literacy, which we believe many young people can do earlier, towards instead how they develop software and computational principles; how they can create their own programmes”.
“I want to see the ability to create software, to write programmes, that is one of the key functional skills for the 21st century, and young people going through school, college and university should have the opportunity to generate those skills.”
Willets said the pilots would begin with classes of GCSE students and later include those working for A levels. The aim was to provide a foundation for new GCSE and A level courses. These in turn would “increase the flow of students into universities with those type skills”, he said.